Bryan Anthonys changes the jewelry industry with poetry.
By Jenny Hoff, Photos by Romina Olson, Styled by Parke Ballantine (with assistance from Asma Parvez),
with inspiration from ByGeorge (@bygeorge) and Nordstrom (@nordstrom). Jewelry by Bryan Anthonys (@bryananthonys). Hair by Mandy Hernandez (@mandyhernandezmakeup). Makeup by Stacy Castanuela (@stacycastanuela). Shot on location at Archer Hotel Austin. Special thanks to Dawn Hauck.
TRIGGER WARNING: This story makes mention of sexual assault and bullying. Reader discretion advised.
From its earliest days, jewelry has been more than just a status symbol or form of adornment. It’s been a protector and healer. A way to cherish a memory. A token of good luck. A story passed down through generations.
“I lost my grandma when I was 6 years old,” says Amber Glassman, founder and CEO of Bryan Anthonys Jewelry. “She was my person. She had given me this pearl necklace, and it meant so much to me. Later, I thought, ‘It’s amazing how jewelry holds stories for us.’”
At 6 years old, Glassman knew nothing about jewelry other than she treasured the piece from her grandmother. But she was already very familiar with loss and how it can affect people in so many ways. As long as Glassman can remember, she’s been grieving the death of her older brother. He died of bacterial meningitis when he was only 1 ½ years old, before Glassman was even born. Unlike her older sister, she never got a chance to hug him, touch him or see him.
“His shadow is all around me, but I can’t catch it; I can’t hold it because I never got to meet him,” she says.
All Glassman can hold on to is his name. She and her husband, Edward—whom she met at an eighth-grade party—have opened and closed 15 different businesses with names like Fish Finders, Book the Beat and Punching Bag Warehouse—names generated from frequently searched Google terms. But it was their jewelry business that finally succeeded.
Sometimes she wonders if her brother, Bryan Anthony, had something to do with it.
“I always wanted to name a business after him because he never got to create a legacy himself,” she explains. She sits at the sleek conference table at the front of the warehouse for Bryan Anthonys Jewelry, which occupies an expansive space in a long strip mall near The Domain. Surrounding her are words written on placards and posters, words Glassman has written for the moments in life that can leave you speechless, words that have connected millions of customers with her jewelry line.
“The day we first started getting real orders for Bryan Anthonys was Sept. 7, 2015,” she recalls. Then, a revelation that induces goosebumps, “Sept. 7 was also the date of my brother’s passing.”
That day was the beginning of a success story that Amber and Edward still have a hard time believing. It was only seven years ago, when they moved to Austin with big plans and a small savings account they intended to drain to start their new business. Renting a tiny apartment at The Domain, they got to work designing jewelry in notepads and finding a manufacturer. Despite their business savvy, gained from many failed attempts to hit the entrepreneur jackpot, they quickly realized they had overestimated how far their savings would stretch and underestimated how competitive the jewelry market was. With virtually no sales and burning cash faster than they could make it, Amber sat down with Edward and determined it was time to pivot.
“I said, ‘What if I write poetry that comes with the jewelry? What If I make a friendship necklace?’”
Edward was doubtful. A friendship necklace seemed like jewelry small kids would want, not their target market of women looking for adventure. But Amber was insistent. Her idea was a nontraditional friendship necklace with two pieces of an arrow—symbolism only the wearers would understand, because it would relate to the words that came with it. It would set Bryan Anthonys apart, make their product more than just another piece of jewelry.
Edward finally agreed, and Soul Sisters was born.
“Once in a while someone comes into your life and changes everything,” wrote Glassman in the Soul Sisters description. “They will cheer you up when you are down, laugh with you until your stomach hurts and make you feel at home when you are far away. No matter the distance, she will follow your arrow—wherever it may go.”
Once they had their design and the meaning of the piece typed on a notecard (that would arrive with the jewelry), they put out an ad on social media and waited for a sale.
On Sept. 7, for the first time since moving to Austin and founding Bryan Anthonys, the couple heard their phones dinging with orders. Within 24 hours, they had sold 20 pieces, which at that point in their business felt like a viral hit.
“I was completely shocked,” recalls Edward. “I never in a million years would have thought it resonated with people the way it did.”
“We called our manufacturer immediately and told him we were on to something,” Amber says with a smile. “He said it would take a few weeks, so we created a preorder function, promising to deliver by a certain date even though we had no idea how to make that happen yet.”
Seven years and 2 million pieces of jewelry sold later, Amber and Edward can hardly believe where they’ve taken the company. From shipping their first pieces out of their apartment to moving into their 25,000-square-foot facility with a 50-person staff, the Bryan Anthonys co-founders are anomaly Austin entrepreneurs. They’ve never taken an investment, and they still own 100% of their company, which hit $22 million in sales last year.
“We had a sticker on our desk that said by 2020, Bryan Anthonys will reach a million in revenue,” says Edward. “It’s crazy to see how big it’s grown, something that we created.”
It’s been more than just a business success story. Amber’s writings for each line of jewelry have touched on issues from grief to grit to surviving experiences that are often kept silent. This very public journal has allowed her to rise from her own darkness and give light to others who are still unseen.
Determined to Rise
“Standing in my truth, I take back the sky that’s mine, for beautiful creatures can never be confined. No longer hiding the scars beneath my skin, I reclaim the power of my wings. Soaring into the night, so that others may find my light—reminding the world that fallen feathers still fly. You cannot keep something down that was meant to rise.” (Excerpt from “Rise,” Bryan Anthonys)
For many teenagers, a journal or diary is the one place they can express all the confusing thoughts and emotions those tumultuous years bring. For Amber, journaling was a lifeline through a very dark period of sadness, shame and fear. It was where she could write the words she couldn’t yet speak to her friends and family.
“When I was 16, I was drugged and raped at a party,” Amber reveals. “That’s how I lost my virginity. I was raised Catholic, and that was supposed to be what I did with my husband, and this person I didn’t know took it from me.”
Amber didn’t tell anyone about the assault for 10 years. Not when she was late for her period a month later (but luckily wasn’t pregnant), not when she couldn’t find the perpetrator, didn’t know his name or where he went to school. Not when two weeks after the rape, in an unrelated incident, she became the victim of bullying.
“There was a girl who looked like me, and this topless photo of her had come out. A girl at another school said it was me. So I started getting these Myspace messages of ‘whore,’ ‘slut’ and all of these other derogatory names. It was so hard for me because it was after my sexual assault, when I was at my most vulnerable.”
Feeling alone and isolated, Amber wrote relentlessly, hoping the words spilling on the page could wash away the sadness inside her. It worked enough to get her through the hardest years. When she founded Bryan Anthonys, she knew other women needed to know they weren’t alone. Someone else could put into words the feelings that were trapped inside of them.
One doesn’t constantly offer words of encouragement without getting them in return. That’s where the Bryan Anthonys “kind words” Slack channel comes into play. Director of Customer Experience Stacey McKee’s favorite part of her job is getting emails and messages from grateful customers. Words every staff member needs to read to remember they work for something much bigger than a jewelry business.
“I made my first purchase from your company of an Always in My Heart necklace for my daughter after her husband passed away. He was only 28, and she was only 26 years old. Before he passed, they thought they had their whole lives ahead of them. The words that were on the card that came with the necklace seem to say everything that I was at a total loss to say. Thank you.” – Kimberly C.
“I just wanted to thank Amber for the words she wrote for the Pause necklace. My son died from an accidental Fentanyl exposure along with his girlfriend and his roommate. Needless to say, this has been a very hard four months. I received the necklace as a gift from one of his best friends on his birthday last week. The gesture was so nice, but those words sum up exactly what my nights (and days) are like. I haven’t taken it off since I got it and find myself touching it frequently throughout the day. I just wanted you to know I appreciate someone knowing what this awful experience feels like.” – Lisa K.
Coming from a corporate background, where words of affirmation were rare and customer appreciation nonexistent, McKee says she was shocked when she started working for Bryan Anthonys in 2017 and discovered the impact the then-small jewelry company was having.
“I came on board thinking it was a startup, a young company, and I can fill in when needed,” she recalls. “I was looking to fill in the time when my daughter was at school. Within two months, I realized this wasn’t just two young people starting a jewelry company. They had a passion and purpose. When you’re asked to get on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You get on. I haven’t looked back.”
McKee believes part of the company’s success is due to the culture its founders have created. Family-friendly and insistent on a work-life balance, Amber and Edward, who have their own little girl at home, knew they could only succeed by creating a workplace people didn’t want to leave. All female, except for Edward, the warehouse floor is teaming with moms scanning and packaging pieces to send out to customers, seasoned designers working on new looks to accompany Amber’s words and creatives finding the right images to capture the essence of the story.
“You need to find people who believe in your brand and your vision as much as you do,” says Amber, as she gives a tour of the building, greeting each staff member with a smile. “People are what make a brand. You can’t do it alone.”
Far from the days of fulfilling orders in an airless garage or getting chastised by the postmaster for filling the city’s mail drop-off bins with orders (she quickly learned how to dropship), Amber is now surrounded by a team of enthusiastic women ready to take Bryan Anthonys to the next level—home decor, books, seminars and more. But there is one thing she must still do alone: connect with her heart to come up with the right words for profound moments and life experiences. Each theme takes months to compose, with rewrites and revisions, staff feedback and researching what her customers need to hear. Like all writers, sometimes Amber will get writer’s block, unable to put pen to paper.
That’s when McKee sends her the kind words.
“She’s a writer and a person,” says McKee. “Whenever I know she is struggling to find the words, I’ll send her something a customer has written to remind her to keep going. People need it.”
This is for the mom who buried her child with the other half of the You Are My Sunshine necklace, the daughter who said Amber’s words in “Beautifully Broken” saved her life when she was going through a deep depression. It’s for the women overcoming breast cancer, celebrating their tribe with the words and symbols Bryan Anthonys created for just that need.
“And in the midst of heartache, she decides that she can either dwell in her disasters or she can learn to weather them—she can let the storm break her or she can let it build her…And despite the aches of her journey, she is led to a place only she can find—a place of courage, a place of beauty, a place of becoming. This is what it means to overcome. This is what it means to survive. (Excerpt from “Overcome,” Bryan Anthonys Jewelry)
The impact of losing a child is earth-shattering. The weight of the pain can make movement impossible. To use that devastation as a catalyst for good takes immeasurable strength. That’s why Amber’s mom became her greatest inspiration. Unable to bring her son back and devastated by the loss, she turned her pain and darkness into a light for others. The only thing in her control was her response, and she responded with love, working in health care and taking care of other children who were severely ill, giving solace and comfort to those with none left.
From an early age, Amber learned two important lessons: life is short, and loss or failure is an obstacle, but not the end of the road.
It’s why she didn’t give up after 15 side gigs that didn’t pan out, or when nobody was buying her initial jewelry pieces or while she was up all night fulfilling orders out of her apartment, unable to afford help.
“Sometimes we get so caught up with not starting because we are afraid to fail, but I feel sometimes that failure is our best teacher,” she says.
As she creates a legacy in honor of her brother, Amber is determined to make Bryan Anthonys more than just a product company, but a place where people can find hope and healing. She’s learned the secret to a successful business is connecting with the customer on a raw, personal level. It’s sharing your own secrets so they feel free to share theirs, building a team with purpose, having the courage to believe change can start with you.
“Find your inner strength and let it light the fire in you. Remember that you do not need a giant flame to set a fire—all you need is a tiny spark.” (Excerpt from “Strength,” Bryan Anthonys)